by Rose Miyonga
When I was a child, my family and I spent our summers at festivals. Almost always with a face paint, quite often naked, my sister and I, along with a cohort of friends old and new would roam freely through fields filled with music, art and fun.
When I started going to big festivals as a teenager, I was, frankly, disappointed. Gone were the compost toilets and the communal canteens, and gone, too, were the feelings of safety and inclusivity, the feeling that I was a member of a community whose participation was encouraged and appreciated. Instead, I felt like a consumer, a customer who had paid to be entertained.
Enter Brainchild. The independent festival is a true antidote to the consumerist ideals that have come to dominate modern festivals; it’s philosophy is based on DIY, inviting festival-goers to create and collaborate rather than expect to be spoon-fed fun in exchange for money. It is run by volunteers, without sponsorship, and the impressively young organisers (they started the Brainchild when they were 19) don’t seek to make financial profit, but instead create an environment to share and celebrate people’s projects across the fields visual arts, live music, DJ sets, film, theatre, spoken word, dance and talks.
Brainchild reminds me of the intimacy of the festivals that gave me such joy in my childhood, and part of this is because of the dynamic it fosters between artists and festival goers. With over 300 artists among the 2000 people who will come together at the East Sussex site from 7 – 9 July, and no VIP areas, everyone is encouraged to collaborate and share art as part of their festival experience.
The full line-up is extremely impressive, and includes South London soul singer-songwriter, DJ and producer Andrew Ashong, astute poet, musician and rapper Kojey Radical, Bristol based six-piece electric jazz outfit Ishmael Ensemble, and neo-soul artist Cosmo Pyke. Broken beat pioneer Dego (2000black) will share an extended set and live interview, giving festival-goers and artists an insight into his work over the past two decades in underground electronica and electro soul, and super-group SE Dub Collective will bring together musicians like Ezra Collective, Nérija, SumoChief, Poppy Ajudha for a set.
Young people’s poet laureate for Caleb Femi and UK SLAMChampion 2016 Rachel Nwokoro will be sharing their gifts, and there will shows by Pecs: the drag king collective and actor/activist Joana Nastari whose ‘fuck you pay me’ deconstructs the London strip club culture.
“I think so much of Brainchild’s magic would be lost if it was just music,” says Bridget Minamore, co-organiser and writer, who will be reading from her collection of poems, Titanic, at the festival.
“A big part of how inclusive Brainchild is comes down to who helped set up the festival in the first place. I’ve been to a lot of festivals—performing as a poet—and I know first hand what white, middle class spaces they are, as well as how they’re usually also run by men. Brainchild isn’t perfect, but we’ve always had a team with more women than men, and Isabel [Adomakoh Young, another of the organisers] and I are both black women who have been involved since the beginning. It doesn’t sound like much, but there are many major festivals with a core team of 30 but none are people of colour. I think that shows in who comes to play at the same festivals—if you don’t notice an almost exclusively white male crew, you don’t notice a totally white, male line-up.”
“As the festival has grown, we’ve all tried to make Brainchild more inclusive; making our team more diverse, reaching out to people who might not be traditional festival-goers, and getting acts to the festival who talk about meaty issues from the decriminalisation of the sex industry to transgender rights. I also think the fact we keep ticket costs as cheap as a we can is really important— it means we’re not stopping people from attending because they can’t afford it.”
It can be hard to relax and have fun when your entertainment media is provided in a context women of colour are underrepresented and marginalised, but this is not the case at Brainchild, where the organisational team, artists and attendees all recognise the strength in a diverse and inclusive collaboration.
And if you’re still struggling to relax, there are daily yoga classes to help with that!
Sustainability is also at the of Brainchild’s concerns. Although it is clearly hard to align environmental concerns with the practicalities of a festival, the organisers are committed to turning Brainchild festival into a leader for sustainable policies amongst small UK festivals. They have enlisted a task force to tackle waste and water management and sustainable procurement, and have invited PPL PWR, a volunteer-led collective aiming to promote sustainable technologies and innovations to host a space and demonstrate some of the work they are doing in sustainable energy.
Ahead of Brainchild 2017, we spoke to Programme Co-ordinator, Tobi Kyeremateng.
Brainchild is the home of pure, artistic, DIY innovation, making, doing, thinking and dreaming.
We’re really ramping up our Wellbeing Space and talking about the things we want to help shape our workshops, performances and talks and debates. We hope all of this will lead as a way to be more inclusive physically, by simply providing safe spaces and open dialogue for our audience and artists, as well as encouraging people to get involved practically and to have something they can take away to hopefully continue to practise at home.
Brainchild prides itself on its inclusivity and diversity. It’s important we show whose voices and talents are feeding into the production of this festival behind the scenes, as well as onstage. A diverse team creates a truly diverse line-up – we all have different cultures, we know different people, different talents, different thoughts and ideas based on our experiences. Whether that feeds into the curation of the talks, music or theatre, there’s something to be said about the certain nuances genuine diversity encourages, and how we learn from each other as a team.
I work across theatre, poetry and festivals as a Producer with several organisations, including Apples and Snakes and The Old Vic to name a few. My job with Brainchild is pretty much organisation-focused and admin-heavy, which I’m used to doing, but I’m also constantly surrounded by great talent across all different platforms. I know how to pull things together, work under pressure (which I do… a lot) and I’m not afraid to ask questions!
There’s a lot of brainstorming around the team, which I love. It isn’t just left with the programmers. Everyone in the team is highly encouraged to pitch ideas. Go out and see stuff. Recommend things to listen to or watch out for. We also do open call-outs for our event Hatch that happens at Platform Southwark. This is also an opportunity for us to meet some really exciting artists we might want to have a further relationship with.
At Brainchild, we want to change the way artists and audiences interact with each other in different spaces. We want to encourage cross-collaboration and get people talking and making together, pairing people that might never have met if not for the festival. For me, the whole point of a festival is the cross-pollination – you go to see a DJ and you’re vibing with people you’ve never met before, then you might go and see a short film and meet someone else, who’s completely different, but you all have those shared interests. You’re all there for some of the same reasons. To truly build a creative community, we start here.
We hope to see you there!
If you can’t make it, we will be bringing coverage from Brainchild, so stay tuned.